Opponents of the more academically-structured functions of e-readers have long sited the awkward accessibility of search features as one of the barriers to widespread adoption of electronic texts in educational settings. The belief that e-readers aren’t the most user-friendly interface for any digital content which requires rapid movement throughout the text have been well-founded, until now.
Inkling, a 2009 startup that has partnered with educational text giant McGraw-Hill to incorporate its easy-to-use interactive design into academic texts, has over 100 higher education titles in its current catalog, with many more titles in the works. Those titles are not just available to students at the post-secondary level, as many schools are now experimenting with replacing their print editions with Inkling’s digital titles for iPad, among other platforms.
Company founder Matt MacInnis, a former education division pioneer at Apple, has brought a full complement of interactive features to the titles that Inkling produces. Textbooks are not only fully searchable now, the material is also interactive, allowing the reader to create margin notes that can be shared with fellow students and to self-test throughout the e-book. Diagrams are available in full-color and in near perfect 3D imagery, an important upgrade for courses such as sciences and mathematics which rely heavily on diagrams.
All of these features combat the real war in the textbook industry, price. The overreaching costs of college textbooks, even allowing for the purchase and later resale of used texts, have been all but erased with Inkling’s price structure. One key feature is that individual chapters of full texts are available for as little as a few dollars each, allowing course instructors to assign students to purchase only the chapters that will be necessary for the course. That’s a huge improvement in the economics of higher education, given that many college texts are meant to be used for only one semester but often contain upwards of 1000 pages, many of which will not be utilized within the time frame of that one course.
Fortunately, companies like McGraw-Hill are not fighting this new future standard but are instead embracing it. Seeking Alpha, an online business news outlet, recently listed McGraw-Hill specifically as one of the potentially viable giants who could stand to benefit mutually from a corporate purchase of Barnes & Noble, siting the academic publisher’s willingness to venture into digital publishing as a means to reach its market audience and to demonstrate its ability to be flexible, leading to its own advancement.
The real winners in the digital textbook world, obviously, will be the students attempting to afford the rising costs of higher education. Through a content-specific device, students can carry all of their necessary texts with them and with Inkling, they can learn far more than paper ever allowed.